Smartphone VR Viewer Roundup


In June 2014, Google revealed a low-cost Smartphone Adapter and VR SDK at their annual software developer conference in San Francisco, California. During the event, Google handed out 6,000 cardboard kits and released a tutorial online, which prompted homemade versions to surface on the web within three hours. This then sparked an iPad case manufacturer to fashion together their own cardboard VR kit that could be bought for $25. After a week, Google gained over 50,000 downloads of their cardboard Android app.

Although the popularity of this VR viewer skyrocketed extremely fast, the idea for a cheap VR solution is nothing new. Developers have been experimenting with these types of objects for years. In fact, a group of Cupertino high school sophomores debuted a similar device called ‘Face Box’ at an entertainment and technology conference at Stanford University on June 17, more than a week before Google’s I/O presentation. A few months earlier, researchers at the Mixed Up Research Lab (MxR) at USC launched an open source DIY VR website that showed how to create virtual reality headsets with a 3D printer. The smartphone enabled head-mounted display had schematics for both Android and iPhone. The MxR lab was where [Palmer Luckey] worked at as an engineer before founding Oculus (the company that Facebook eventually acquired for approximately $2 billion). So when [Palmer] saw that Google released their cardboard kit, he vocalized his opinion by calling it a clone of his colleagues’ research on Reddit.

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RFID Audio Book Reader For the Visually Impaired

RFID audio book reader

When [Willem] visited home last year, he stopped in at his grandparents’ house and found that his very active 93-year-old grandfather had recently gone almost completely blind and was passing the days just sitting in a chair. [Willem] suggested that he listen to audio books, but his grandfather wasn’t receptive to the idea until [Willem] convinced him that the well-narrated ones can be very gripping and entertaining. Once his grandfather was on board, [Willem] knew that he needed a much more accessible solution than a tiny device with tiny controls, so he built an RFID audio reader using a Raspberry Pi.

[Willem] has posted the build details at his personal site. Essentially, the box you see above contains a Raspi and an RFID reader. He created different ‘books’ by placing RFID cards inside of DVD boxes, which makes them more tangible and accessible. When a book is placed on the box, the RFID reader tells the Pi which mp3 files to load. The large colored buttons let the user pause, rewind 20 seconds, and control the volume.

We love to see this kind of build. It’s simple, effective, and greatly enhances the user’s quality of life. [Willem]‘s grandfather loves it and uses it every day.

Disabling Tap To Pay Debit Cards

XRAY of Debit Card

Some people aren’t too crazy about the rush of RFID enabled credit & debit cards, and the problem is, you don’t really have a choice what card you get if the bank sends you a new one! Well if you really don’t like this on your card for whatever reason, it’s pretty easy to disable.

[James Williamson] recently got a new debit card with RFID technology — the problem is it was messing with his access card at work, the readers would beep twice, and sometimes not work. He decided to disable it because of this and that he didn’t really use the tap to pay feature, nor was he completely convinced it was as secure as the bank said.

Since these RFID chips use antennas made of copper wire, he could have just started slicing his card with a knife to break the antenna — but, since he has access to a CT scanner, he thought he’d scan it to figure out where everything was.

Simply make a small notch in the edge of your card, or snip off one of the corners. This breaks the antenna and prevents power to the chip when held near a reader — though if you don’t have access to a CT scanner you might want to double-check next time you buy something!

Now there is another side to this — maybe you actually like the whole tap to pay thing, well, if you wanted to you could get a supplemental card, dissolve it in acetone, and then install the RFID chip into a finger ring for Jedi-like purchasing powers!

Converting Cigarette Butts into Batteries


Trillions of cigarettes are smoked every year, leaving behind discarded filters containing non-biodegradable materials that can be recycled into carbon-based products for electrochemical components. This was discovered by a team of South Korean scientists who presented their unique energy storage solution in IOP Publishing’s journal of Nanotechnology.

The materials inside the cigarette filters offered up better performance than commercially bought carbon, graphene and carbon nanotubes at the time. They hoped to coat electrodes of supercapacitors with the material to be inserted into computers, handheld devices, and electric vehicles. A simple one-step burning process called pyrolysis reduced the filters down into a carbon-based byproduct with tiny pores. The leftover porous substance ensured higher power densities for supercapacitors. This was then tested out to see how well the material absorbed electrolyte ions and discharged them. It did better than expected and stored higher amounts of electrical energy than other commercially available options.

The full paper is linked at the bottom of their article but it’s behind a paywall. If you have a subscription and the time to look it over, please let us know if you think there’s potential for this unorthodox material source or if they’re just blowing smoke.

[Thanks for the tip Ryoku!]

Stewart Platform Ball Bearing Balancer

PID balancing a ball on a plate

For their Mechanical Engineering senior design project at San Jose State University, [Tyler Kroymann] and [Robert Dee] designed and built a racing motion simulator. Which is slightly out of the budget of most hackers, so before they went full-scale, a more affordable Arduino powered Stewart platform proof of concept was built. Stewart platforms typically use six electric or hydraulic linear actuators to provide motion in six degrees of freedom (6 DOF), surge (X), sway (Y), heave (Z), pitch, roll, and yaw. With a simple software translation matrix, to account for the angular displacement of the servo arm, you can transform the needed linear motions into PWM signals for standard hobby servos.

The 6 DOF platform, with the addition of a resistive touch screen, also doubled as a side project for their mechatronic control systems class. However, in this configuration the platform was constrained to just pitch and roll. The Arduino reads the resistive touch screen and registers the ball bearing’s location. Then a PID compares this to the target location generating an error vector. The error vector is used to find an inverse kinematic solution which causes the actuators to move the ball towards the target location. This whole process is repeated 50 times a second. The target location can be a pre-programmed or controlled using the analog stick on a Wii nunchuck.

Watch the ball bearing seek the target location after the break.

Thanks to [Toby] for sending in this tip.

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Introducing Hat a Day! Not to be Confused With the Real HaD of Course…

Hat a Day

With the release of the Raspberry Pi B+ model comes a whole slew of extra GPIO connectors, a whopping 40 of them in fact — Almost double the original B model! A HAT stands for Hardware Attached on Top, and Adafruit is celebrating by trying to create a new hat, every day.

A HAT is a rectangular board measuring 65x56mm with mounting holes for the Raspberry Pi B+ and a 40 pin GPIO header. That doesn’t sound too special by itself, but two of the header pins are reserved for a special auto-configuration system that allows your Pi to have automatic GPIO and driver setup! Now we’re talking!

So far Adafruit has made a handful of prototype HATs including the Perma-proto HAT, a GPS HAT, a TFT HAT, an Arcade HAT and even a Servo HAT. But they’re looking for more! We think they’ve slipped up on the one a day record though…

We’re excited to see more integrated projects with the B+ since it’s so much more friendly for add-on hardware than the original — What kind of hardware would you like to see in HAT form? Do you like the idea of HATs?

The Hackaday Prize: Unofficial Statistics

Hackaday Prize entries over time. You people really know how to procrastinate. Click to embiggen.

Hackaday Prize entries over time. You people really know how to procrastinate. Click to embiggen.

What is the Hackaday crew doing this weekend? Judging Hackaday Prize entries, of course! We need to pare down the hundreds of entries we received to 50 primo entries for the quarterfinals round. We’re going to be slammed the entire weekend, so don’t expect any news on who’s in and who’s out of the competition until Monday.

Each of us has about 15 hours of video to go through (multiply the number of entries by two minutes. It’s a lot), and of course we need to read each entry and rate them. We’re literally looking at more than a man-month of work here, and yes, we’ve all read the book.

Until then, here’s some totally unofficial statistics, courtesy of [Greg Kennedy] and his web scraping skills. The graph above shows the number of Hackday Prize entries over time, from the first announcement of the contest to the cutoff time. You people really, really like to procrastinate. The day with the most entries was August 20th, the deadline to get your project in. The day with the most validated entries (i.e. meeting the requirements of a video and four project logs) was August 19th. Needless to say, it’s been a busy week on

As a side note, the rules for THP say you must upload a video to qualify for the quarterfinals. This video may be uploaded to YouTube or Youku. Only one project uploaded a video to Youku. Now you know what to do next time to get some free publicity.

It’s highly unlikely we’re going to publish this many official stats, especially now that [Greg] has it pretty much covered. We’ll get the list of all the quarterfinalists out on Monday. Until then you can entertain yourself by watching nearly 15 hours of Hackaday Prize entry videos, all embedded below.

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